Saturday, May 31, 2008

The 5 friendliest cities in America

May 28: TODAY contributor Barbara Corcoran looks at the five friendliest cities in America: San Antonio; Denver; Davis, Calif.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Madison, Wis.
What makes a city friendly? We looked for certain standards like safety, diversity, pedestrian and bike friendliness, as well as the presence of parks and public spaces. Then we looked for something unique, like a place that always has big, fun public events or someplace with a lot of farmers markets. Most importantly, we talked to brokers to get their personal stories of friendliness. (Did you know that people in Nashville will strike up a conversation with you while waiting at a red light?) And finally, we took a look at statistics that help make a place friendly, such as enough hotel rooms to welcome visitors, enough bars to have a robust happy hour, enough tourists willing to visit and, of course, budget-friendly home prices.
go to link if you are curious...

Friday, May 30, 2008

Michael Crichton, Vindicated

By Jack Shafer
In 1993, novelist Michael Crichton riled the news business with a Wired magazine essay titled "Mediasaurus," in which he prophesied the death of the mass media—specifically the New York Times and the commercial networks. "Vanished, without a trace," he wrote.
The mediasaurs had about a decade to live, he wrote, before technological advances—"artificial intelligence agents roaming the databases, downloading stuff I am interested in, and assembling for me a front page"—swept them under. Shedding no tears, Crichton wrote that the shoddy mass media deserved its deadly fate.
"[T]he American media produce a product of very poor quality," he lectured. "Its information is not reliable, it has too much chrome and glitz, its doors rattle, it breaks down almost immediately, and it's sold without warranty. It's flashy but it's basically junk."
Had Crichton's prediction been on track, by 2002 the New York Times should have been half-fossilized. But the newspaper's vital signs were so positive that its parent company commissioned a 1,046-foot Modernist tower, which now stands in Midtown Manhattan. Other trends predicted by Crichton in 1993 hadn't materialized in 2002, either. Customized news turned out to be harder to create than hypothesize; news consumers weren't switching to unfiltered sources such as C-SPAN; and the mainstream media weren't on anyone's endangered species list.
When I interviewed Crichton in 2002 about his failed predictions for Slate, he was anything but defensive.
"I assume that nobody can predict the future well. But in this particular case, I doubt I'm wrong; it's just too early," Crichton said via e-mail.
As we pass his prediction's 15-year anniversary, I've got to declare advantage Crichton. Rot afflicts the newspaper industry, which is shedding staff, circulation, and revenues. It's gotten so bad in newspaperville that some people want Google to buy the Times and run it as a charity! Evening news viewership continues to evaporate, and while the mass media aren't going extinct tomorrow, Crichton's original observations about the media future now ring more true than false. Ask any journalist.
So with white flag in hand, I approached Crichton to chat him up once more. Magnanimous in victory, he said he had often thought about our 2002 discussion and was happy to revisit it. (Read the uncut e-mail interview in this sidebar.)
Although Crichton still subscribes to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, he dropped the Los Angeles Times a year ago—"with no discernable loss." He skims those two dailies but spends 95 percent of his "information-gathering time" on the Web.
He concedes with a shrug that the personalized infotopia he crystal-balled in 1993 has yet to arrive. When we talked in 2002, Crichton scoffed at the Web. Too slow. Its page metaphor, too limiting. Design, awful. Excessive hypertexting, too distracting. Noise-to-signal ratio, too high.
Today he's more positive about the medium. He notes with satisfaction that the Web has made it far easier for the inquisitive to find unmediated information, such as congressional hearings. It's much faster than it used to be, and more of its pages are professionally assembled. His general bitch is advertisements in the middle of stories, and he's irritated by animation and sounds in ads. "That, at least, can often be blocked by your browser," he says.
In 1993, Crichton predicted that future consumers would crave high-quality information instead of the junk they were being fed and that they'd be willing to pay for it. He's perplexed about that part of his prediction not panning out, but he has a few theories about why it hasn't.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Caesaropapism Rampant

One of the best articles covering the election that I've read recently. Please read.

Caesaropapism Rampant
Americans are not cynical about politics. They are presidential romantics. Hence they suffer serial disappointments.
by George F. Will

Barack Obama recently said, "I believe in our ability to perfect this nation." Clearly there is something the candidate of "change" will not change—the pattern of extravagant presidential rhetoric. Obama is trying to replace a president who vowed to "rid the world of evil"—and of tyranny, too.

But then, rhetorical—and related—excesses are inherent in the modern presidency. This is so for reasons brilliantly explored in the year's most pertinent and sobering public affairs book, "The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power," by Gene Healy of Washington's libertarian Cato Institute.

Healy's dissection of the delusions of "redemption through presidential politics" comes at a moment when liberals, for reasons of liberalism, and conservatives, because they have forgotten their raison d'être, "agree on the boundless nature of presidential responsibility." Liberals think boundless government is beneficent. Conservatives practice situational constitutionalism, favoring what Healy calls "Caesaropapism" as long as the Caesar-cum-Pope wields his anti constitutional powers in the service of things these faux conservatives favor.

War is, as Randolph Bourne said, "the health of the state." And as James Madison said, war is the "true nurse of executive aggrandizement." Today's president has claimed the power to be the "decider," deciding on his own to start preventive wars, order torture prohibited by treaty and statute, and arrest American terrorist suspects on American soil and hold them indefinitely without legal process. But Healy's critique of the heroic presidency ranges far beyond national-security matters.

"Tell me your troubles," said FDR, Consoler in Chief, in a fireside chat with a radio audience. In 1960, the year the nation elected a charismatic (a term drawn from religion) president who regarded the office as "the center of moral leadership," an eminent political scientist called the presidency "the incarnation of the American people in a sacrament resembling that in which the wafer and the wine are seen to be the body and blood of Christ." In 1992, Gov. Bill Clinton promised a "New Covenant" between government and the governed. That, Healy dryly notes, was "a metaphor that had the state stepping in for Yahweh."

Clinton's wife, stepping in for Sigmund Freud, diagnosed America as suffering from "a sleeping sickness of the soul" because we do not know "who we are as human beings in this postmodern age." Presidents are now supposed to answer such existential questions. And the question asked of Clinton, President George Bush and Ross Perot during a 1992 debate: "How can we, as symbolically the children of the future president, expect ... you to meet our needs, the needs in housing and in crime and you name it?"

If you can name it, presidents are responsible for it. The name for this is infantilization. "The average American," said President Richard Nixon, "is just like the child in the family—you give him some responsibility and he is going to amount to something." Vice President Al Gore said the government should act like "grandparents in the sense that grandparents perform a nurturing role."

Such demented talk encourages presidential candidates to make delusional promises—energy independence in eight years (Mike Huckabee), "an excellent teacher in every classroom" and "every school an outstanding school" (John Edwards, who presumably knows how every school can stand out when all are outstanding), a "perfect" nation (see above) and so on.

The last presidential candidate to talk sense about the office was fictional. In an episode of NBC's "The West Wing," the Republican candidate, who was not the hero, was asked, "How many jobs will you create?" "None," he replied, adding: "Entrepreneurs create jobs. Business creates jobs. The president's job is to get out of the way."

An occupational hazard of the inflated presidency is a hazard to the nation. It is what Healy (borrowing a term from psychiatry) calls Acquired Situational Narcissism. As repositories of absurd expectations, and surrounded by sycophants, presidents become deranged. Inevitably, the inflation of expectations causes what Healy calls an "arc of disillusionment" that diminishes one president after another.

Michelle Obama says, "Barack will never let you go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed." Leaving aside the insult—her opinion that we are uninvolved and uninformed—do we really elect politicians to yank us out of our usual lives? Americans are said to be cynical about politics. Actually, they are presidential romantics. Which is why they suffer serial disappointments.

Immediately after Nov. 4, the media will foster feverish speculation about how the president-elect will satisfy the now normal expectations for a hyperkinetic "100 days." That phrase entered America's political lexicon with Franklin Roosevelt's flurry of activism following his 1933 Inaugural Address. In it, FDR, adopting the war paradigm so favored by presidents even in peacetime, urged Americans to "move as a trained and loyal army," submitting their "lives and property" to "a common discipline" with "a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in time of armed strife."

The original phrase "100 days" was about real war—the days after Napoleon's escape from Elba. They ended at Waterloo, which the president-elect should remember, but won't.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Chicago sleepwalks into the surveillance society with "intelligent" networked cameras

Chicago is touting their new 'intelligent' 700+ camera network as being able to flag suspicious activity without human intervention, based on operator-defined criteria within the video frame. Video is archived for 30 days in a 60 terabyte storage vault. Great."
>>>> They're everywhere. They're multiplying. Several thousand cameras are now capable of sending live pictures into a room - the operations center at the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communication.
There's no way that human beings can effectively watch all those feeds, so enter video analytics. By programming algorithms, you give the camera intelligence.

"We actually can tell the camera, 'This is precisely what we're looking for.' The camera will watch for that circumstance, and when that circumstance occurs, comes back to the human being whether they're watching that camera or not - with an alert," said OEMC director Jim Argiropolous.>>>>>

Someone needs to come up with a name for this fallacy, the "untouched by human hands" fallacy: "the computers are impartially finding the bad behavior -- there's no human bias or prejudice at work -- we just program it and then it proceeds with perfect platonic precision to catch all the bad guys."

Hating Hillary

New Statesman (a British magazine): "Gloating, unshackled sexism of the ugliest kind has been shamelessly peddled by the US media, which - sooner rather than later, I fear - will have to account for their sins
History, I suspect, will look back on the past six months as an example of America going through one of its collectively deranged episodes - rather like Prohibition from 1920-33, or McCarthyism some 30 years later. This time it is gloating, unshackled sexism of the ugliest kind. It has been shamelessly peddled by the US media, which - sooner rather than later, I fear - will have to account for their sins. The chief victim has been Senator Hillary Clinton, but the ramifications could be hugely harmful for America and the world.
I am no particular fan of Clinton. Nor, I think, would friends and colleagues accuse me of being racist. But it is quite inconceivable that any leading male presidential candidate would be treated with such hatred and scorn as Clinton has been. What other senator and serious White House contender would be likened by National Public Radio's political editor, Ken Rudin, to the demoniac, knife-wielding stalker played by Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction? Or described as "a fucking whore" by Randi Rhodes, one of the foremost personalities of the supposedly liberal Air America? Would Carl Bernstein (of Woodward and Bernstein fame) ever publicly declare his disgust about a male candidate's "thick ankles"? Could anybody have envisaged that a website set up specifically to oppose any other candidate would be called Citizens United Not Timid? (We do not need an acronym for that.)
I will come to the reasons why I fear such unabashed misogyny in the US media could lead, ironically, to dreadful racial unrest. "All men are created equal," Thomas Jefferson famously proclaimed in 1776. That equality, though, was not extended to women, who did not even get the vote until 1920, two years after (some) British women. The US still has less gender equality in politics than Britain, too. Just 16 of America's 100 US senators are women and the ratio in the House (71 out of 435) is much the same. It is nonetheless pointless to argue whether sexism or racism is the greater evil: America has a peculiarly wicked record of racist subjugation, which has resulted in its racism being driven deep underground. It festers there, ready to explode again in some unpredictable way.
To compensate meantime, I suspect, sexism has been allowed to take its place as a form of discrimination that is now openly acceptable. "How do we beat the bitch?" a woman asked Senator John McCain, this year's Republican presidential nominee, at a Republican rally last November. To his shame, McCain did not rebuke the questioner but joined in the laughter. Had his supporter asked "How do we beat the nigger?" and McCain reacted in the same way, however, his presidential hopes would deservedly have gone up in smoke. "Iron my shirt," is considered amusing heckling of Clinton. "Shine my shoes," rightly, would be hideously unacceptable if yelled at Obama.
Evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, American men like to delude themselves that they are the most macho in the world. It is simply unthinkable, therefore, for most of them to face the prospect of having a woman as their leader. The massed ranks of male pundits gleefully pronounced that Clinton had lost the battle with Obama immediately after the North Carolina and Indiana primaries, despite past precedents that strong second-place candidates (like Ronald Reagan in his first, ultimately unsuccessful campaign in 1976; like Ted Kennedy, Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson and Jerry Brown) continue their campaigns until the end of the primary season and, in most cases, all the way to the party convention."

Monday, May 26, 2008

"John Ericsson Day Memorial, 1918"

- Carl Sandburg (1878–1967). Cornhuskers. 1918. -

INTO the gulf and the pit of the dark night, the cold night, there is a man goes into the dark and the cold and when he comes back to his people he brings fire in his hands and they remember him in the years afterward as the fire bringer—they remember or forget—the man whose head kept singing to the want of his home, the want of his people.

For this man there is no name thought of—he has broken from jungles and the old oxen and the old wagons—circled the earth with ships—belted the earth with steel—swung with wings and a drumming motor in the high blue sky—shot his words on a wireless way through shattering sea storms:—out from the night and out from the jungles his head keeps singing—there is no road for him but on and on.

Against the sea bastions and the land bastions, against the great air pockets of stars and atoms, he points a finger, finds a release clutch, touches a button no man knew before.

The soldier with a smoking gun and a gas mask—the workshop man under the smokestacks and the blueprints—these two are brothers of the handshake never forgotten—for these two we give the salt tears of our eyes, the salute of red roses, the flame-won scarlet of poppies.

For the soldier who gives all, for the workshop man who gives all, for these the red bar is on the flag—the red bar is the heart’s-blood of the mother who gave him, the land that gave him. 5

The gray foam and the great wheels of war go by and take all—and the years give mist and ashes—and our feet stand at these, the memory places of the known and the unknown, and our hands give a flame-won poppy—our hands touch the red bar of a flag for the sake of those who gave—and gave all.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

8 tips to ensure you survive your bike ride

Gas prices are crazy, and as minds turn to two-wheeled transport as an alternative, those minds wonder if it's possible to ride a bicycle in urban traffic without injury or vexation.

Yes. Drivers don't want to kill you. Most drivers are as indifferent to you and your bicycle as they are to everything else on the road. Over the roughly 280,000 miles accumulated over a 26-year (and counting) cycling history, I have been knocked off my bike by cars three times:

Hit by a stop-sign runner.

Brushed by a turning taxicab.

Bumped by a cabbie who didn't like my offer to merge proctology and podiatry.

No serious injuries, just some common sense gained. In every instance my Eight Rules of Butt Preservation would have saved the day. So read, heed and happy pedaling.

1Establish best practices. Do everything in a safe, defensive manner. Obey traffic laws—period. Signal your intentions with hand gestures, and never be the first one into the intersection (cars run red lights too).

2Never be where you aren't expected. No zipping between cars, scooting by on the wrong side of turning traffic or riding on the sidewalk, which is illegal for anyone past the age of 12, by the by. Wrong way down a one-way street? You know better.

3 Be smooth and predictable. Ride as straight a line as possible, no weaving, no swerving. Most drivers are as freaked out about you as you are about them. Predictability helps everyone.

4Be a politician. Make contact, from saying "good morning" or nodding if you make eye contact to looking at drivers as you maneuver in traffic. Stump for votes and bonhomie as politicians do. No, cyclists shouldn't have to. So suck it up.

5It isn't you. Motorists don't hate you. They want to get from Point A to B as quickly as possible, and hate any impediment to that progress, which is everything else on the road, including you. Not taking it personally will make the following tip easier to manage.

6Never, ever engage. If an angry driver does something dumb, chill. Let that person find someone else to fight. If the problem escalates, you could lose—ugly. Being right won't console you as you're lying on the pavement.

7Manage your space. Place yourself in the road in a way that defines your space. This includes things such as riding on the left edge of the bike lane to leave space for car doors, and moving a foot or so to your left when approaching an intersection to prevent the right turn across your front.

8 Be vivid. Unnatural colors are highly visible. Use head and tail lights from dusk on; go supernova if you have to.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Graffitti Animation

China's All-Seeing Eye by NAOMI KLEIN

**From Rolling Stone. Intro is here, but I encourage everyone to read the full article at the link above.

Thirty years ago, the city of Shenzhen didn't exist. Back in those days, it was a string of small fishing villages and collectively run rice paddies, a place of rutted dirt roads and traditional temples. That was before the Communist Party chose it — thanks to its location close to Hong Kong's port — to be China's first "special economic zone," one of only four areas where capitalism would be permitted on a trial basis. The theory behind the experiment was that the "real" China would keep its socialist soul intact while profiting from the private-sector jobs and industrial development created in Shenzhen. The result was a city of pure commerce, undiluted by history or rooted culture — the crack cocaine of capitalism. It was a force so addictive to investors that the Shenzhen experiment quickly expanded, swallowing not just the surrounding Pearl River Delta, which now houses roughly 100,000 factories, but much of the rest of the country as well. Today, Shenzhen is a city of 12.4 million people, and there is a good chance that at least half of everything you own was made here: iPods, laptops, sneakers, flatscreen TVs, cellphones, jeans, maybe your desk chair, possibly your car and almost certainly your printer. Hundreds of luxury condominiums tower over the city; many are more than 40 stories high, topped with three-story penthouses. Newer neighborhoods like Keji Yuan are packed with ostentatiously modern corporate campuses and decadent shopping malls. Rem Koolhaas, Prada's favorite architect, is building a stock exchange in Shenzhen that looks like it floats — a design intended, he says, to "suggest and illustrate the process of the market." A still-under-construction superlight subway will soon connect it all at high speed; every car has multiple TV screens broadcasting over a Wi-Fi network. At night, the entire city lights up like a pimped-out Hummer, with each five-star hotel and office tower competing over who can put on the best light show.

Many of the big American players have set up shop in Shenzhen, but they look singularly unimpressive next to their Chinese competitors. The research complex for China's telecom giant Huawei, for instance, is so large that it has its own highway exit, while its workers ride home on their own bus line. Pressed up against Shenzhen's disco shopping centers, Wal-Mart superstores — of which there are nine in the city — look like dreary corner stores. (China almost seems to be mocking us: "You call that a superstore?") McDonald's and KFC appear every few blocks, but they seem almost retro next to the Real Kung Fu fast-food chain, whose mascot is a stylized Bruce Lee.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sharpshooting girl, 12, banned from boys hoops team

Houston Chronicle: "BEAVERTON, Ore. — Jaime Nared is nearly 6-1 and blessed with Michael Jordan-style skills. In games, the 12-year-old can more than hold her own against the boys — dropping three-pointers and sometimes scoring 30 points or more.
And there, according to her coach, lies the problem.
She's so good, Michael Abraham said, she makes the boys look like scrubs. So she's been told she can no longer play on boys teams at The Hoop, a private Beaverton basketball facility that runs a league in which Abraham's teams compete.
The trouble started last month, when parents told The Hoop management they didn't like Jaime playing with the boys.
Hoop officials notified Abraham that Jaime, after years on one of his boys teams, was barred. They cited a rule, in a document coaches sign when they enter teams in the league, that prohibits mixed-gender teams.
"I never saw the rule," said Abraham, who has coached basketball, mostly girls and women's teams, for 32 years.
"If I'd known about it, I wouldn't have put any of my teams in the league. Besides, she's been playing on this team since second grade, and she plays on our team when we travel around the region. There's never been any problem in any event, not one word of complaint.""

Girls’ Gains Have Not Cost Boys, Report Says

New York Times: "The American Association of University Women, whose 1992 report on how girls are shortchanged in the classroom caused a national debate over gender equity, has turned its attention to debunking the idea of a “boys’ crisis.”
“Girls’ gains have not come at boys’ expense,” says a new report by the group, to be released on Tuesday in Washington.
Echoing research released two years ago by the American Council on Education and other groups, the report says that while girls have for years graduated from high school and college at a higher rate than boys, the largest disparities in educational achievement are not between boys and girls, but between those of different races, ethnicities and income levels.
In examining a range of standardized test scores, the report finds some intriguing nuggets about the interplay of family income, race, ethnicity and academic performance. For example, it finds that while boys generally outperform girls on both the math and verbal parts of the SAT, the male advantage on the verbal test is consistent only among low-income students, and that among black students, there was no consistent advantage by sex from 1994 to 2004.
And while boys of all races and ethnicities generally outscored girls of the same group on the math section, the gap by sex for black students was only about half as large as other groups.
The report points out that a greater proportion of men and women than ever before are graduating from high school and earning college degrees. But, it says, “perhaps the most compelling evidence against the existence of a boys’ crisis is that men continue to outearn women in the workplace.”"

Mom forced to live in car with dogs

" SANTA BARBARA, California (CNN) -- Barbara Harvey climbs into the back of her small Honda sport utility vehicle and snuggles with her two golden retrievers, her head nestled on a pillow propped against the driver's seat.
A former loan processor, the 67-year-old mother of three grown children said she never thought she'd spend her golden years sleeping in her car in a parking lot.
"This is my bed, my dogs," she said. "This is my life in this car right now."
Harvey was forced into homelessness earlier this year after being laid off. She said that three-quarters of her income went to paying rent in Santa Barbara, where the median house in the scenic, oceanfront city costs more than $1 million. She lost her condo two months ago and had little savings as backup.
"It went to hell in a handbasket," she said. "I didn't think this would happen to me. It's just something that I don't think that people think is going to happen to them is what it amounts to. It happens very quickly, too."
Harvey now works part time for $8 an hour, and she draws Social Security to help make ends meet. But she still cannot afford an apartment, and so every night she pulls into a gated parking lot to sleep in her car, along with other women who find themselves in a similar predicament.
There are 12 parking lots across Santa Barbara that have been set up to accommodate the growing middle-class homelessness. These lots are believed to be part of the first program of its kind in the United States, according to organizers.
The lots open at 7 p.m. and close at 7 a.m. and are run by New Beginnings Counseling Center, a homeless outreach organization.
It is illegal for people in California to sleep in their cars on streets. New Beginnings worked with the city to allow the parking lots as a safe place for the homeless to sleep in their vehicles without being harassed by people on the streets or ticketed by police.
Harvey stays at the city's only parking lot for women. "This is very safe, and that's why I feel very comfortable," she said.
Nancy Kapp, the New Beginnings parking lot coordinator, said the group began seeing a need for the lots in recent months as California's foreclosure crisis hit the city hard. She said a growing number of senior citizens, women and lower- and middle-class families live on the streets."

Is the government compiling a secret list of citizens to detain under martial law?

In the spring of 2007, a retired senior official in the U.S. Justice Department sat before Congress and told a story so odd and ominous, it could have sprung from the pages of a pulp political thriller. It was about a principled bureaucrat struggling to protect his country from a highly classified program with sinister implications. Rife with high drama, it included a car chase through the streets of Washington, D.C., and a tense meeting at the White House, where the president's henchmen made the bureaucrat so nervous that he demanded a neutral witness be present.
The bureaucrat was James Comey, John Ashcroft's second-in-command at the Department of Justice during Bush's first term. Comey had been a loyal political foot soldier of the Republican Party for many years. Yet in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he described how he had grown increasingly uneasy reviewing the Bush administration's various domestic surveillance and spying programs. Much of his testimony centered on an operation so clandestine he wasn't allowed to name it or even describe what it did. He did say, however, that he and Ashcroft had discussed the program in March 2004, trying to decide whether it was legal under federal statutes. Shortly before the certification deadline, Ashcroft fell ill with pancreatitis, making Comey acting attorney general, and Comey opted not to certify the program. When he communicated his decision to the White House, Bush's men told him, in so many words, to take his concerns and stuff them in an undisclosed location.....

(Full Article at link above to Radar Magazine. Here's the good part:)

...Another clue came from a rather unexpected source: President Bush himself. Addressing the nation from the Oval Office in 2005 after the first disclosures of the NSA's warrantless electronic surveillance became public, Bush insisted that the spying program in question was reviewed "every 45 days" as part of planning to assess threats to "the continuity of our government."
Few Americans—professional journalists included—know anything about so-called Continuity of Government (COG) programs, so it's no surprise that the president's passing reference received almost no attention. COG resides in a nebulous legal realm, encompassing national emergency plans that would trigger the takeover of the country by extra-constitutional forces—and effectively suspend the republic. In short, it's a road map for martial law....

According to a senior government official who served with high-level security clearances in five administrations, "There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived 'enemies of the state' almost instantaneously." He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.

Biggest Rally Yet- 75,000 gather in Portland

Monday, May 19, 2008

Ride of Silence

On May 21, 2008, at 7:00 PM, the Ride of Silence will begin in North America and roll across the globe. Cyclists will take to the roads in a silent procession to honor cyclists who have been killed or injured while cycling on public roadways. Although cyclists have a legal right to share the road with motorists, the motoring public often isn't aware of these rights, and sometimes not aware of the cyclists themselves.

Ride of Silence: Chicago
Join us in a silent, slow-paced ride in honor of those who have been injured or killed while using public roadways. We will ride for about 12 miles and visit recent ghost bike installations.

Wednesday, May 21st
Meet at 6:45pm at the Eternal Flame
Daley Plaza, Chicago

Bikeride -- Here Comes Summer

Hi Kids,
I've been listening to this CD this morning. Geoff gave it to me a few years ago, and I always break it out right before summer hits. As one site describes, it's "Fun, summery, 60's pop, great driving and make-out music, Brazilian influenced, make this the soundtrack to your summer." At the link above, you can stream the entire CD. Yipee!

Barack Obama on a New Foreign Policy

Friday, May 16, 2008

Body of War

Dear Friends,

On Wednesday, we screened Phil Donahue's new documentary "Body of War," which starts today at the Landmark Theater on Clark/Division. It is a moving story of one Iraq vet's struggle to readjust to everyday life after being paralyzed by a bullet to the spine, as well as him coming into his own as an eloquent public speaker and advocate for Peace and Understanding.

Phil said the film doesn't have a distributor -- as he put it "Jaws it is not." In the interest of Spreading the Message, I want to encourage anyone who has the chance to see this film. Or at the very least, check out the link above and watch the available clips.

And check out the Iraq Veterans Against the War - My heroes! And Phil Donahue held a door open for me! I was too blinded by his shining silver hair to do more than smile and say thanks.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Party on! (for now)

Chicago's live-music community breathed at least a temporary sigh of relief Tuesday after city officials pulled back an ordinance that would require promoters to apply for licenses.

The proposed new regulations, which originally were scheduled to be voted on Wednesday by the City Council, sparked a recent uproar.

In response, Ald. Eugene Schulter (47th) organized a meeting Tuesday with venue owners, local promoters and several aldermen.

After hearing concerns about the ordinance, Schulter, who is chairman of the Committee on License and Consumer Protection, decided not to hold a vote Wednesday, citing "unanswered questions and issues that should be considered" in a statement his office released.

In its current form, the proposal would require event promoters to apply every two years for a license that could cost up to $2,000. Promoters also would be required to obtain at least $300,000 in liability insurance for events and submit to background checks and fingerprinting.

The ordinance was drafted in response to an independent panel's recommendations after the E2 tragedy of 2003, when 21 people died after a stampede in an overcrowded nightclub.

But critics argued new rules and costs would make it almost impossible for smaller promoters to operate and would make it more difficult to book benefit shows, open-mike nights and new band showcases.

Summer's on my Mind

For those of us who hate to clean our bikes...

I'm about to test ride a chainless Dynamic Bicycle, which combines a shaft drive (left) with Shimano internal gearing.

In many ways, it sounds like my ideal bike: I regularly ride in all sorts of weather, but I never seem to find time for maintenance.

My laziness often leaves me with derailleur issues and an urge to buy a fixed-gear bike. But with a shaft drive bike, those bothersome mechanical components are enclosed and protected from the rain, dirt, mud and lakefront path gravel. The derailleur isn't exposed and there's no grease to get on your work clothes.

Going green continues to gain momentum and if you need proof, you can look no farther than your neighborhood farmers market.

In addition to new markets opening in the area, many will be selling sustainable fruits, vegetables and gourmet specialties. Many markets open this week.

"We have a dual message," said Yescenia Mota, Chicago Farmers Market project coordinator for the city. "We want farmers markets to be fun, so we worked hard to bring back the 'Country Chef Challenge' [local chefs compete against each other in August using market produce]. And we want people to buy local food because it helps preserve Midwest farmland, and that's good for the environment."

Green Festival
This Saturday - Navy Pier. Welcome to Chicago Amy Goodman!
Celebrating what’s working in our communities, green festival showcases more than 350 diverse local and national green businesses displaying and selling eco-friendly, fair trade and sustainable products. More than 150 visionary speakers appear for standing-room-only panel discussions, presentations and main stage speaking events.

A Message from our good friends at the ACLU

We won the marriage case in California. No need for hyperbole here; this is big.

Simply having the California Supreme Court say that constitutional principles demand that marriage be open to same-sex couples is an enormous win. This Court has a remarkable history of leadership on civil rights and civil liberties. It made landmark decisions on race and sex discrimination, on freedom of speech and privacy, and on treatment of the disabled and poor people long before the U.S. Supreme Court. No court in America has more authority to say that marriage for same-sex couples is an issue of basic freedom than this one.

And as the New York Times recently pointed out, the California Supreme Court is the most influential state high court in America. If you'd like to read it, here's the decision. The case was brought by the ACLU, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal and the City of San Francisco. The decision is 4 to 3.

Marriage in California will transform the discussion of marriage nationwide. California has one of the largest economies in the world. Given the state’s economic clout, the fact that California is marrying same-sex couples will put considerable pressure on the rest of the country to recognize those marriages.

Even more important, the rest of the country recognizes that California is America’s cultural trendsetter, that cultural change in California is usually a preview of what is to come in the rest of the United States. Most Americans already believe that marriage for same-sex couples is bound to happen sooner or later. I think marriage in California will help persuade many of them that this is an issue of basic fairness, and that the time for it is now.

This was a prize of inestimable value.

Now, of course, we have to hold on to it. It appears fairly certain that anti-gay forces have gotten enough signatures to put on the November ballot an initiative that would amend the state Constitution and overrule the decision.

That initiative is scary. We lost a different vote on marriage only eight years ago. And our opponents, recognizing that marriage in California is a great prize, will fight with all their might. They’ll put everything they have into this. Which means that to win, we’ll have to raise a great deal of money and run a very smart campaign.

While we can’t discount how difficult and nerve-wracking it will be to fight the initiative, we can win. If ever a state was well prepared for a vote on marriage, it is California. LGBT rights work has been going on there since the 50s, and we’ve been establishing rights for same-sex couples since the 80s.

And we can’t forget how much greater the prize will be if we win. If we win the initiative, marriage in California will have a popular stamp of approval. No more will our opponents be able to call marriage the child of “activist judges” or out-of-control local officials. The court has given us the chance to win marriage for ourselves, and push the fight for full equality ahead by years. We’ve got to rise to meet that challenge.

But let’s not dwell on that today. For today, let’s just revel in one of the greatest wins in our history.

How sweet it is.

-- Matt


Dear Internets,
Why don't more people talk about this show? I just finished the first episode, and I laughed my ass off already. In the Age of Judd Apatow, i'm surprised I'm just finding this for the first time.

The Big Bang Theory

One of my favorite scenes in The Big Bang Theory involves the two main characters, Leonard and Sheldon, trying to move a large, flat box up two flights of stairs. Faced with no equipment and little upper-body strength, Leonard declares, “We are physicists! The intellectual descendents of Archimedes!” He proceeds to work the problem, tilting the box against the stairs, explaining (for the benefit of the studio audience) the mathematics of how that reduces the force required to lift the box.
I think of that scene whenever I hear a member of the physics community griping about the show and how it reinforces negative stereotypes of scientists. The premise is quite simple: Two nerdy physicists befriend the pretty blonde waitress who moves in next door, and wackiness ensues from the cultural clash. It's the show about physics that physicists love to hate: “How dare network television call us nerds for fun and profit!” But chances are the person griping hasn't even seen the show. And that's too bad, because The Big Bang Theory is actually a very smart, savvy series.
More importantly, the science is right on target–a rare accomplishment for a TV sitcom. Much of that is due to the efforts of UCLA physicist David Saltzberg, who serves as the show's technical consultant, painstakingly fleshing out the physics jargon in the dialogue and making sure the equations on the white boards lurking in the set's background are accurate.
When was the last time you were watching TV and the characters brought up the formula for determining the force required to push an object up a slope...and then used it to solve a practical problem? There are more obscure in-jokes, too: When Leonard spends the night with a brilliant female physicist, she “fixes” Sheldon's equation-in-progress by changing the sign, prompting Sheldon to gripe that now he'd have to share his Nobel Prize with her. Only PhD physicists familiar with QCD theory are likely to get that joke, yet there it is, on network television.
So it's not the science that physicists are likely to find problematic. It's the way the main characters are portrayed. Sheldon is a genius physicist with a serious case of Asperger's syndrome who needs cue cards to alert him to sarcasm in casual conversation, and arranges his breakfast cereals numerically according to fiber content. His other regularly appearing friends are no better. Leonard emerges as the sweet-natured counterfoil to his geeky compatriots, and much of the show's premise rests on whether he has a chance with the waitress Penny. Will she recognize Leonard's true romantic worth?
It's understandable that watching a shy, awkward physicist drooling over the stereotypical “ dumb blonde” might annoy some folks in the physics community. Why can't television portray scientists “accurately” instead of falling back on unfair stereotypes? That's the familiar refrain, but women could make the same complaint about Penny–who isn't nearly as stupid in later episodes as she is initially made out to be. The characters are evolving as the show develops, moving beyond the initial caricatures. The humor is evolving, too. It's more in the vein of good-natured teasing than outright ridicule, and it stems from a genuine fondness for geek culture. After all, Penny genuinely likes the geeky physicists next door.
Perhaps the humor raises some hackles because–like all good comedy–it contains an element of truth. We have all encountered physicists who fail to pick up on common social cues; who make inappropriate comments to attractive women; and who engage in animated, technical arguments on the difference between centrifugal and centripetal force, to the bemusement of any non-scientists who happen to be present. In another scene, the guys argue at length about the scientific inaccuracies contained in the first Superman movie. There are entire Web sites devoted to bad movie physics, and scientists are notorious for griping at length about minor technical inaccuracies in film and television.
Comedy is a funhouse mirror: It's an exaggerated reflection, to be sure, but it is still a reflection. If we don't like what the funhouse mirror shows us, maybe we need to change the reality. Only then will we see a change in the reflection. Or maybe we could just relax a little and learn to chuckle good-naturedly at our own human foibles. The physicists in The Big Bang Theory are likeable, even endearing. How can that be bad for physics?
Ultimately, the primary objective of any TV show is to entertain, not to teach. But humor is infectious. People can still come away with a tiny bit of physics insight, and a better appreciation for its relevance to our lives.

U.S. using food crisis to boost bio-engineered crops

By Stephen J. Hedges | Washington Bureau
12:54 AM CDT, May 14, 2008
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has slipped a controversial ingredient into the $770 million aid package it recently proposed to ease the world food crisis, adding language that would promote the use of genetically modified crops in food-deprived countries.
The value of genetically modified, or bio-engineered, food is an intensely disputed issue in the U.S. and in Europe, where many countries have banned foods made from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
Proponents say that GMO crops can result in higher yields from plants that are hardier in harsh climates, like those found in hungry African nations.
"We certainly think that it is established fact that a number of bio-engineered crops have shown themselves to increase yields through their drought resistance and pest resistance," said Dan Price, a food aid expert on the White House's National Security Council.
Problems anticipated
Opponents of GMO crops say they can cause unforeseen medical problems. They also contend that the administration's plan is aimed at helping American agribusinesses.
"This is a hot topic now with the food crisis," said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association. "I think it's pretty obvious at this point that genetically engineered crops—they may do a number of things, but they don't increase yields. There are no commercialized crops that are designed to deal with the climate crisis."
President George W. Bush proposed the food package two weeks ago as aid groups and the UN World Food Program pressed Western governments to provide additional funds to bridge the gap caused by rising food prices. The aid must win congressional approval.
It would direct the U.S. Agency for International Development to spend $150 million of the total aid package on development farming, which would include the use of GMO crops.
The U.S. is the UN food program's largest donor, providing nearly half the help the group receives from governments. It gave about $1.1 billion to the WFP in both 2006 and 2007. The WFP provided $2.6 billion in aid in 2006.

'Fusion Man'

Yves Rossy, known as the 'Fusion Man,' flies with a jet-powered single wing over the Alps in Bex, Switzerland, on May 14. Some people go fishing on their day off. Yves Rossy likes to jump out of a small plane with a pair of jet-powered wings and perform figure eights above the Swiss Alps. The revolutionary human flying machine comes after five years of training and many more years of dreaming. (AP/Anja Niedringhaus)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Crimanimal Mass

Last Friday, Crimanimal Mass took their second bicycle ride on the freeway during drive-home rush hour (see a video of their first ride here). Whizzing by gridlocked cars, the demonstration, albeit illegal, raises questions. Good questions. One of the group's organizers, Morgan Strauss, 29, was quoted in the Santa Monica Daily Press (.pdf) this weekend saying that he “just wanted to raise questions about the transportation infrastructure. In a city ruled by cars, why is it that you can get places faster on bikes?”

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Get Out Clause, Manchester stars of CCTV

Unable to afford a proper camera crew and equipment, The Get Out Clause, an unsigned band from the city, decided to make use of the cameras seen all over British streets.

With an estimated 13 million CCTV cameras in Britain, suitable locations were not hard to come by.

They set up their equipment, drum kit and all, in eighty locations around Manchester – including on a bus – and proceeded to play to the cameras.

Afterwards they wrote to the companies or organisations involved and asked for the footage under the Freedom of Information Act.

"We wanted to produce something that looked good and that wasn't too expensive to do," guitarist Tony Churnside told Sky News.

"We hit upon the idea of going into Manchester and setting up in front of cameras we knew would be filming and then requesting that footage under the Freedom Of Information act."

Only a quarter of the organisations contacted fulfilled their obligation to hand over the footage – perhaps predictably, bigger firms were reluctant, while smaller companies were more helpful – but that still provided enough for a video with 20 locations.

"We had a number of different excuses as to why we weren't given the footage, like they didn't have the footage. They delete after a certain amount of time, so if they procrastinate for long enough, they can claim it's been deleted," Mr Churnside said.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy mother's day

United Nations Centre for Human Settlements:
"100 Million Homeless in World
Most Are Women and Dependent Children

Up to 100 million people are homeless throughout the world, the majority of them women and dependent children, says Dr. Wally N'Dow, Secretary General of Habitat II, the global conference aimed at developing solutions to urban problems, to be held June 3-14 in Istanbul, Turkey.
The problem is not just homelessness. Overall, at least 600 million people -- again, most of them women and dependent children -- live in shelters that are life threatening or health threatening in developing world cities.
Every day, some 50,000 people, mostly women and children, die as a result of poor shelter, polluted water and inadequate sanitation. Some 70 million women and children live in homes where smoke from cooking fires damages their health.
"The main reason for homelessness among women and their dependent children is poverty," says Dr. N'Dow, who is also Assistant Secretary General and head of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), based in Nairobi, Kenya. Habitat, dedicated to improving access to housing and basic services for the world's poor, is organizing Habitat II. "Women are doubly disadvantaged by their need to earn a living while providing care for family members and running households."
On May 8, Dr. N'Dow announced the formation of the Huairou Commission on Women, Homes and Community to advise him on gender issues during the Habitat Conference, The Commission was formed to represent the perspective of grass-roots women and is composed of notable women (please define), representatives of non-governmental organizations, women from the private sector and experts in the field of community development.
Of the estimated 1.3 billion people living in poverty around the world, 70 percent are women and girls. Women and girls are also the fastest increasing group of impoverished, a process called "the global feminization of poverty."
India is one of the few developing countries that has tried to count its homeless, finding more than 2.3 million. Western Europe, on the other hand, counts just 6,300 homeless.
The percentage of squatter housing, almost always substandard and likely to be headed by women, also shows housing problems in developing countries, especially in cities. Some 5.5 percent of Turkey's households are squatters but 23.3 percent of all households in the capital of Ankara are squatters. In Peru, 5.6 percent of all households are squatters, but 8.1 percent of households in the capital of Lima are squatters.
Other reasons for female homelessness include:

Women have few or no property rights in many parts of the world. Many women of the world are barred, mostly by custom but sometimes by law, from inheriting or owning the homes in which they live, condemning them and their children to poverty and destitution. Women comprise more than 50 percent of the world's population, but they own only one percent of the world's wealth, United Nation statistics say.

The sharp increase of households headed by women. Some 33 percent of families globally are headed by women, but 45 to 50 percent of households in some African and Latin American countries are headed by women.

Women are much less likely to have steady employment than men, and working women are lower paid, including those in industrial countries. In France and Belgium, women earn about three-quarters of the average male wage, and in Japan, only about half. In Singapore, women earn the equivalent of 72 percent of men's wages; in Hong Kong, 63 percent; in the Republic of Korea, 57 percent.

Some 75 percent of the world's women cannot get formal bank loans because they lack permanent employment and title deeds to land or housing that they can offer as security, or because the laws of their countries classify them as minors, not eligible to make legal transactions.

Of the 23 million refugees, and 27 million internal displaced (within their own countries) worldwide, some 70-80 percent are women and children."

Craft Brewers Reformulate Beer to Cope With Hop Shortage

Wired: "OAKLAND, California -- At Pacific Coast Brewing here, brewer Donald Gortemiller is reworking his recipes and altering his brewing styles like never before.
Gortemiller isn't acting on a spurt of creativity. He's coping with a worldwide shortage of hops -- the spice of beer. The dry cones of a particular flowering vine, hops are what give your favorite brew its flavor and aroma. Prices of the commodity are skyrocketing as hop supplies have plummeted, forcing smaller brewmasters around the United States to begin quietly tweaking their recipes, in ways that are easily discerned by serious imbibers.
The shortage -- caused by a dwindling number of hop growers worldwide, and exacerbated by a Yakima, Washington, warehouse fire -- has forced Gortemiller to use fewer and different hops than before, changing the flavor of his beer. He's also resorted to beer hacks, like "dry hopping," in which the hops are added late to the mix, consuming fewer hops and yielding a more consistent flavor.
"When hops were $2 a pound, compared to $20 or $30 a pound now, it didn't matter. We'd throw them into the boil at various times," Gortemiller says. "That was an inaccurate way of doing things. We're modifying recipes and using about 20 percent less hops."
The beer-brewing situation demonstrates how the global-commodity shortage is spilling over to affect diverse industries in unexpected ways. The hop shortage lives on the outer edges of a food crisis that's prompted riots across the planet, and last month led U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon to implore the world's governments to increase food production to stave off a 40 percent jump in the cost of staples.
While nobody in the craft-beer industry is going hungry, they are being forced to adapt. There's no replacement for hops in beer -- they give the brew its flavor. But other key ingredients are in short supply, as well. Malt, which comes from sprouted barley, produces the alcohol and body of beer -- its prices have doubled along with hops. The price of rice, used by industrial brewers, has charted a similar course."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Q&A: NASA Scientist Answers Your Questions About Lying in Bed for 90 Days

Our readers had a lot of questions following our last post on the NASA Bed Rest Study, in which participants spend 90 days lying in bed in exchange for about $5,000 a month. What did participants eat? Could they have conjugal visits? Did they get to pay videogames?
We got in touch with Ronita Cromwell, the senior research scientist heading the project to put your questions to her. She emphasized that the study's purpose is to simulate some of the effects of zero-gravity on astronauts bodies during long stays in space. By keeping participants horizontal, her team can gain some visibility into muscle atrophy and bone loss. If you want to help out the space program by lying about, just fill out this NASA application form.
In this question-and-answer, Cromwell discusses the gritty details of what you can watch, how you can eat, whether you can play videogames, and the possibility of conjugal visits during your three months in bed.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Fight Stuff

New York Times: "NOTABLE in the Indiana and North Carolina primary results and in many recent polls are signs of a change in the gender weather: white men are warming to Hillary Clinton — at least enough to vote for her. It’s no small shift. These men have historically been her fiercest antagonists. Their conversion may point less to a new kind of male voter than to a new kind of female vote-getter.
Pundits have been quick to attribute the erosion in Barack Obama’s white male support to a newfound racism. What they have failed to consider is the degree to which white male voters witnessing Senator Clinton’s metamorphosis are being forced to rethink precepts they’ve long held about women in American politics.
For years, the prevailing theory has been that white men are often uneasy with female politicians because they can’t abide strong women. But if that’s so, why haven’t they deserted Senator Clinton? More particularly, why haven’t they deserted her as she has become ever more pugnacious in her campaign?
Maybe the white male electorate just can’t abide strong women whom they suspect of being of a certain sort. To adopt a particularly lamentable white male construct, the sports metaphor, political strength comes in two varieties: the power of the umpire, who controls the game by application of the rules but who never gets hit; and the power of the participant, who has no rules except to hit hard, not complain, bounce back and endeavor to prevail in the end."

Does John McCain Want to Criminalize Contraception? ""In a speech on Tuesday at Wake Forest University, McCain spoke not a word about Roe v. Wade, evading "the abortion issue" in a manner for which he has become known. But he did make a shrouded (and critical) reference to the 1965 Supreme Court decision "Griswold v. Connecticut" - the case that struck down a state ban on contraceptives for married couples.
According to Medical News Today, McCain, assuaging the conservative crowd in attendance said that he would appoint conservative justices to the bench and "criticized justices for using the words ‘penumbras' and ‘emanations'." Those just happen to be two words used in the infamous Griswold decision to reason that marriage fell within a zone of privacy (specifically that marriage fell under a "penumbra" of privacy and therefore married couples decision to use contraception was a private matter, not to be regulated by the government).
McCain's coded language around reproductive rights needs to be called out. With the anti-choice advocacy community renewing their focus on contraception as murder and state ballot campaigns that seek to define a fertilized human egg as a person, birth control is under very real attack.
And if you think this is just about the "choices" women make, you're wrong. This is about allowing physicians to practice free from strict government intervention (hint: not all women take birth control for contraceptive purposes); allowing families, couples and individuals the freedom to make private decisions without the government deciding for them; and allowing women's reproductive cycles to occur without the government telling us whether what's happening in our own bodies is legal or not (hint: miscarriage is not a "choice" but under Colorado's proposed ballot initiative it might very well be considered a criminal "choice")

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Unions thwart Walmart's expansion into Chicago.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s hard-fought battle to turn Chicago into a beachhead for urban expansion across the country has come to a quiet end, at least for the foreseeable future, as big-city politics held sway over low prices.

Now the world's largest retailer is turning its attention to a backup plan of opening stores just outside city limits, banking that thousands of low-to-middle-income city dwellers will travel to collar suburbs to shop at the discount store. Among the suburbs Wal-Mart is looking at are Calumet Park, Cicero and McCook, according to people familiar with Wal-Mart's plans.

Wal-Mart got the word from city officials last month that Mayor Richard Daley doesn't want to risk a messy showdown with unions over Wal-Mart—like the big-box store battle of 2006—while Chicago is still in the running as a host city for the 2016 Olympics, according to people familiar with the matter. The International Olympic Committee is slated to make that decision in October 2009.

"That's the end of the story, at least for the next two to three years," said John Melaniphy, a Chicago-based retail real estate consultant. "I think in the long run they'll end up in the city one way or another, but it's going to take them a long time."

Rummy spun (dished to) military analysts

In some of the meetings former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had with retired military generals turned television news analysts, he offered sharp tongued assessments of Iraqi and American officials, according to transcripts and audio files released by the Pentagon.

As you may recall, the New York Times published an article last month that unveiled that the Pentagon was running a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the Bush administration's wartime performance by offering some retired officers special access to top Pentagon officials as well as arranging for VIP trips to Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

The retired generals who worked for all the major network and cable news stations met with officials such as Rumsfeld, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the chief of the Army.

Some Congressional critics were aghast at the revelation that the Pentagon was trying use the retired officers, who the network news programs billed as military analysts, to carry the department's water. The Pentagon has suspended the program, but Sen. John Kerry has called for the Government Accountability Office to launch an investigation.

The Pentagon has dumped thousands of pages of documents, transcripts and audio files on its web site related to the military analysts program.

In a quick scan of some the transcripts and audio files, it's easy to see that the generals are deferential to Rumsfeld--at times they border on obsequious.

"I think you really set a tone and a presence with the media in terms of communicating in general and specific messages and so forth," one of the unidentified officers told the former defense secretary during a question-and-answer session that was held after President Bush announced he was replacing Rumsfeld but before Robert Gates had taken over at the Pentagon. "So as a citizen, I just want to say thanks."

FBI Withdraws Unconstitutional National Security Letter After ACLU and EFF Challenge

The FBI has withdrawn an unconstitutional national security letter (NSL) issued to the Internet Archive after a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). As the result of a settlement agreement, the FBI withdrew the NSL and agreed to the unsealing of the case, finally allowing the Archive's founder to speak out for the first time about his battle against the record demand.

"The free flow of information is at the heart of every library's work. That's why Congress passed a law limiting the FBI's power to issue NSLs to America's libraries," said Brewster Kahle, founder and Digital Librarian of the Internet Archive. "While it's never easy standing up to the government -- particularly when I was barred from discussing it with anyone -- I knew I had to challenge something that was clearly wrong. I'm grateful that I am able now to talk about what happened to me, so that other libraries can learn how they can fight back from these overreaching demands."

The NSL was served on the Archive -- a digital library recognized by the state of California -- and its attorneys in November of 2007. The letter asked for personal information about one of the Archive's users, including the individual's name, address, and any electronic communication transactional records pertaining to the user. Kahle, who is also a member of EFF's Board of Directors, decided to fight the NSL because it exceeded the FBI's limited authority to issue such demands to libraries.

The Archive responded to the letter by handing over only publicly available documents and simultaneously filing a lawsuit challenging the letter. This lawsuit is the first known challenge to an NSL served on a library since Congress amended the national security letter provision in 2006 to limit the FBI's power to demand records from libraries.

The NSL included a gag order, prohibiting Kahle from discussing the letter and the legal issues it presented with the rest of the Archive's Board of Directors or anyone else except his attorneys, who were also gagged. The gag also prevented the ACLU and EFF from discussing the NSL with members of Congress, even though an ACLU lawyer who represents the Archive recently testified at a congressional hearing about the FBI's misuse of NSLs.

"This is a great victory for the Archive and also the Constitution," said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU. "It appears that every time a national security letter recipient has challenged an NSL in court and forced the government to justify it, the government has ultimately withdrawn its demand for records. In the absence of much needed judicial oversight – and with recipients silenced and the public in the dark – there is nothing to stop the FBI from abusing its NSL power."

"A miscarriage of justice was prevented here because the Archive decided to fight the unlawful demand for information and unconstitutional gag," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "The big question is, how many other improper NSLs have been issued by the FBI and never challenged?"

They'll leave the light on for ya

The longest continuously burning light bulb in the world glows high in the ceiling at Fire Station No. 6 in Livermore, Calif. The four-watt bulb has been burning since 1901 and is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest burning bulb in the world. It still provides a night light for firefighters in the station house. The second longest burning bulb is in a Fort Worth, Texas museum. (Los Angeles Times photo by Robert Durell / March 28, 2008)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

She's Lost Me Too

Today, I caught George McGovern on CNN in the breakroom. And even before that, I knew I agreed. Hillary, it's over. It has to be. What you need to grasp, and the frame I'd like to see this thing covered in from here on out -- is that Obama is The People. He's the disenfranchised who are ready to fight back. If Hillary says "hope is an empty promises" that's an insult not to Obama, but to you and to me. Because it's not an empty promise. We, the People, are done with the way the corporate power structure and the puppet government in front of it has manipulated and lied to the public while steering this planet into complete and utter chaos. Obama is who we choose to lead us in a new direction - it's not about him the man, because all that matters is that we trust him to always be loyal to us, the people.

To kill Obama is to kill America's hope. Hillary, I know you know better and care more than that. It's not over for you - this isn't do or die. If you're "in it to win it," it's time to simply redefine what "win" is to you. Bill's charity foundation comes to mind (see video below). There are more ways to save the world than through the office of President. If we've learned ANYTHING from Bush, it's that the specific job of American President is a joke - with 4 months vacation and photo shoots. Basically, all you have to do is smile and sign your name when someone puts something in front of you. It's time for you to think bigger, and reevaluate what your place in the history books will be. As someone who has always been proud of you for your intelligence and the sacrifices you've made for this country, I'm not giving up on you. But I've realized the movement that President Obama represents is a growing flame too delicate to squash at this point.

Sean Bell lives!!!!!!!
Al Sharpton arrested at protest - vows to "close this city down" with civil disobedience

NEW YORK - The Rev. Al Sharpton was arrested at the Brooklyn Bridge on Wednesday as he and hundreds of demonstrators blocked traffic to protest the acquittal of three detectives in the 50-bullet shooting of an unarmed black man on his wedding day.

Sharpton, two survivors of the shooting and the slain man's fiancee were among about a dozen people arrested on disorderly conduct charges near the base of the bridge. Police led away demonstrators at several other bridges and tunnels in the city.

The protests were part of a coordinated campaign to urge federal authorities to investigate the November 2006 shooting of Sean Bell. Three officers were acquitted of state charges last month.

Sharpton, shooting survivors Trent Benefield and Joseph Guzman, and Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre Bell, lined up and peacefully put their hands behind their backs as police put plastic handcuffs on them. Sharpton and Bell were placed in a police vehicle.

The civil rights leader is seeking a federal civil rights probe into Bell's shooting outside a Queens nightclub. The case raised questions about police use of deadly force in minority neighborhoods.

Sharpton had promised recently to "close this city down" with civil disobedience.

Bell was black, as are his friends Benefield and Guzman; the three officers acquitted in the case are Hispanic, black and white.

U.S. attorney spokesman Robert Nardoza said the case was under review, but he declined to comment further.

Palfrey's Friend On Suicide Note: 'That's Not Her Signature'

The manager of an Orlando condo building where Deborah Jean Palfrey, also known as the D.C. Madam, owned a unit disputes the alleged suicide notes that were published in the media - after witnessing examples of her handwriting going back years Joe Strizack concludes, "That is not her signature."

"She could sign her signature a hundred times and it would be identical," Strizack told a local NBC news station. "That is not her signature."

"Strizack looked over the suicide notes, but he questioned if the notes were actually written by Palfrey, and if they were, he thinks they may have been written under duress," according to the report.

Strizack remains convinced that Palfrey's demeanor immediately before she allegedly took her own life betrayed no sign that she was contemplating suicide.

"Monday morning a woman tells you that she’s afraid for her life, she told me several instances where people we following her, and Thursday she’s dead," Strizack said. "What do you think? If someone would put a hit out for her and if someone wanted something done they could do it."

Strizack provided us with copies of Palfrey's handwriting from personal letters and bill payments Palfrey had sent to him (click here for images).

While the overall style is obviously similar to the alleged suicide notes, certain letters and numbers are clearly different.

A comparison between one of Palfrey's notes to Strizack shows a difference, for example, in the number "2" (which is curled in the suicide letter but not in the note) and in letters like "T."

A clear contradiction between the two styles is evident with the letter "N" in the word "Need" - which is of a different structure in the suicide note and flamboyantly curls up in comparison with Palfrey's note to Strizack where the letter is much more understated.

An independent analysis on behalf of a handwriting expert needs to be undertaken in order to ascertain whether the writing belongs to Palfrey, is an outright fraud, or shows evidence of having been written under severe duress whereby Palfrey was forced to write the notes at gunpoint, for example.

As we reported on Monday, the content of Palfrey's alleged suicide notes contradicts both her public statements and the context of her situation following her upcoming prison sentence.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Break-ins plague targets of US Attorneys

MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA – In two states where US attorneys are already under fire for serious allegations of political prosecutions, seven people associated with three federal cases have experienced 10 suspicious incidents including break-ins and arson.

These crimes raise serious questions about possible use of deliberate intimidation tactics not only because of who the victims are and the already wide criticism of the prosecutions to begin with, but also because of the suspicious nature of each incident individually as well as the pattern collectively. Typically burglars do not break-into an office or private residence only to rummage through documents, for example, as is the case with most of the burglaries in these two federal cases.

In Alabama, for instance, the home of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman was burglarized twice during the period of his first indictment. Nothing of value was taken, however, and according to the Siegelman family, the only items of interest to the burglars were the files in Siegelman's home office.

Siegelman's attorney experienced the same type of break-in at her office.

In neighboring Mississippi, a case brought against a trial lawyer and three judges raises even more disturbing questions. Of the four individuals in the same case, three of the US Attorney’s targets were the victims of crimes during their indictment or trial. This case, like that of Governor Siegelman, has been widely criticized as a politically motivated prosecution by a Bush US Attorney.

The main target of the indictment, attorney Paul Minor, had his office broken into, while Mississippi Supreme Court Justice, Oliver E. Diaz Jr., had his home burglarized. According to police reports and statements from Diaz and from individuals close to Minor, nothing of value was taken and the burglars only rummaged through documents and in Minor’s case, also took a single computer from an office full of expensive office equipment.

The incidents are not limited to burglaries. In Mississippi, former Judge John Whitfield was the victim of arson at his office. In Alabama, the whistleblower in the Don Siegelman case, Dana Jill Simpson, had her home burned down, and shortly thereafter her car was allegedly forced off the road.

While there is no direct evidence linking these crimes to the US Attorneys’ office targeting these individuals, or to the Bush administration, there is a distinct pattern that makes it highly unlikely that these incidents are isolated and unrelated.

All of these crimes remain unsolved.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Missing Link of Electronics Discovered: "Memristor"

Scientific American: "After nearly 40 years, researchers have discovered a new type of building block for electronic circuits. And there's at least a chance it will spare you from recharging your phone every other day. Scientists at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories in Palo Alto, Calif., report in Nature that a new nanometer-scale electric switch "remembers" whether it is on or off after its power is turned off. (A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.)
Researchers believe that the memristor, or memory resistor, might become a useful tool for constructing nonvolatile computer memory, which is not lost when the power goes off, or for keeping the computer industry on pace to satisfy Moore's law, the exponential growth in processing power every 18 months.
You may dimly recall circuit diagrams from your middle school science class; those little boxes with a battery on one end and a lightbulb on the other. Ring any bells? To an electrical engineer, the battery is a capacitor—a device for storing electric charge—and the lightbulb is a resistor—an obstacle to electric current. Until now, engineers have had only one other basic element to work with—the inductor, which turns current into a magnetic field.
In 1971 researcher Leon Chua of the University of California, Berkeley, noticed a gap in that list. Circuit elements express relationships between pairs of the four electromagnetic quantities of charge, current, voltage and magnetic flux. Missing was a link between charge and flux. Chua dubbed this missing link the memristor and created a crude example to demonstrate its key property: it becomes more or less resistive (less or more conductive) depending on the amount of charge that had flowed through it."

What Fox News thought Hillary meant by "Lincoln-Douglas style debate"

screen shot from Wonkette:

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Happy International Workers Day!! (i.e. May Day)

This May Day, millions of workers will march in every corner of the earth. They will march on that day which our working class ancestors won with their courage and militancy,” Howard Fast wrote in his famous essay ‘May Day- 1951’.

May Day commemorates the historic struggle of working people throughout the world, and is recognised today in most countries. The struggle for the eight-hour day began in the 1860s. In 1884, the Federation of Organised Trades and Labour Unions of America and Canada, organised in 1881 passed a resolution, which asserted that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s work from and after May 1, 1886, and that we recommend to labour organisations throughout this district that they so direct their laws as to conform to this resolution".

The following year the federation repeated the declaration that an eight-hour system was to go into effect on May 1, 1886. With workers being forced to work ten, twelve, and fourteen hours a day, support for the eight-hour movement grew rapidly. In the months prior to May 1, 1886, thousands of workers, organised and unorganised, members of the organisation Knights of Labour and of the federation, were drawn into the struggle. The socialist delegates in Paris in 1889 appointed May 1 as the official International Labour Day . The date was adopted in Canada in 1894 .The origins of Labour Day in Canada can be traced back to a printer’s revolt in 1872 in Toronto, where labourers tried to establish a 54-hour work week.

Chicago was the main centre of the agitation. The culmination of the unrest actually occurred on May 4, although the unrest began on May I. But in modern times, May Day refers to various socialist and labour movement celebrations as a commemoration of the Haymarket riot of 1886 in Chicago, Illinois. (Editors Note: wikipedia Haymarkets Riot. Most interesting quote: "Edward Aveling, Karl Marx's son-in-law, remarked, "If these men are ultimately hanged, it will be the Chicago Tribune that has done it".)

In the socialist circles, May Day is often known as International Workers’ Day. People celebrate the day as a victory day for the labour movement and the working class. International Workers’ Day , a name used interchangeably with May Day is a celebration of the social and economic achievements of the international labour movement. Hundreds of thousands of working people and their labour unions in Europe and most of the world including India organise street demonstrations.

***For kicks, I'd recommend doing a Google News search for "May Day Protests."

Dear Thief Readers --- Bomb It!!

file under: anarchy, rebelling against the system, art and innovation, social/political commentary, questioning the idea of "public space" (esp. in the age of mass advertising).

Yours Truly,

they live! (still)